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Spotlight: Life-long Learning is at the Centre of this Mechanic’s Journey

Plus: What you don’t know about motor oil contamination

It’s a common theme among mechanics – as kids, they were always taking stuff apart. But Howie Sparks’s entrance into the world of mechanics was a little more dramatic. “I borrowed my dad’s car for the weekend. I advanced the timing to make it go a little faster without realizing that would blow it up. By the time I got home there was no motor left. My dad said, ‘You broke it, you fix it.’ So we worked at it together. I was just sixteen years old and that led to a lot of things.”

Howie moved to Guelph during the Anglophone exodus from Quebec in the late seventies. He gradually worked towards opening his own shop, Autosparks. He’s now been in business for thirty-two years.

The main entrance at Autosparks takes you into the garage proper. Howie says this was a specific design choice. He wants people to be able to come in and see what’s happening. He also thinks that it’s important for customers to be able to talk to the mechanics.

Howie’s shop has two employees: Dave, who has been there for nineteen years and Tay, who has been there for twelve. These days, that’s a long time to stay at the same job. “We have fun, they have a good time – the guys and the customers.” In the past, Howie had worked for some bosses that berated their employees for making mistakes. Howie has a different philosophy: “Humans learn from mistakes. I think having that attitude means that the worker doesn’t get frightened and then they work better. Being harsh doesn’t accomplish a thing.”

One thing that you can be sure of at Autosparks is that the parts being put in your car are quality parts. Howie is a parts guru. He spends a lot of time sourcing out the supplier who has something decent. “Right now, everybody’s having trouble with brakes. I found a brand that I like and it’s not giving me trouble.” Paying attention to what’s available and what’s changing gives Howie an edge.

So whether it’s being aware of his own beginning, supporting his staff, keeping tabs on the parts industry, or sharing knowledge with other members of the Guelph Garage Owner’s Association, Howie operates with an understanding of the importance of learning and gaining knowledge. And if you ask him, he’ll share his knowledge with you too.

Howie Sparks is the owner of Autosparks and a proud member of the Guelph Garage Owners Association. The GGOA is a network of like-minded garage owners who have a reputation of doing the right service at the right time at a fair price. Their member list, code of ethics, and community involvement projects can be found listed on their website.

How contamination affects your motor oil

Everybody knows you can’t skip getting an oil change, but with advances in engine technology and highly engineered synthetic oil, newer vehicles can go longer
periods without service.

This is concerning to some mechanics, Howie Sparks included. “The big problem is dealerships are trying to sell cars by extending their service interval based on kilometers. What’s really important about oil is time and the type of driving you do.”

What’s behind Howie’s scepticism? It’s important to understand what happens to the oil inside the engine and the factors that lead to the breakdown of that oil.

Two main factors that contribute to this breakdown are oxidation and temperature. Temperature swings cause condensation to form inside the engine, causing water contamination. Water contamination is an issue on it’s own, but so are the oxygen molecules it brings with it. Oxygen molecules lead to oxidation - they interact with motor oil, which loosens the chemical bonds and causes the oil to degrade.

Howie explains, “Let’s say you have a person driving to Toronto everyday, putting ten thousand kilometres on a car in three months. Their oil is in much healthier
state than someone who just drove around town, a little trip over here and there. With highway driving, motor oil gets to operating temperature and all the
condensation that has built up in the crank case gets boiled off.”

He continues, “With city driving, the issue is continual warming up and cooling down. It’s all the accelerating, which puts force on the system and then compresses the oil. Just rolling down the highway doesn’t create the same wear and tear.”

So, how often should you get an oil change? Howie’s recommendation: “If you’re on synthetic oil, every six months; on regular oil, every three months, and I don’t care how many kilometres.”

Book your next service with a member of the Guelph Garage Owners Association:
Big Wheel
College Auto Tech
Grants Auto
Hayden’s Garage
JMH Auto
Mister Transmission
True Centre
Ted’s Tire Discounter
Auto Cool

This Content is made possible by our Sponsor; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff.